Hong Kong, Penang (Malaysia), Singapore
March 2016. 15 days, under $3k. I purchased a little bit of money for each currency at my bank (as some places are cash only), then used credit cards for the rest.
I planned for this trip for over a year because I really, really, really, wanted to score some business class in Cathay Pacific and first class suites in Singapore Airlines. And we did!
We collected American Airline miles (Citi American Airlines card and the barclaycard version that no longer exists post US Airways merger) to get us to Hong Kong in Cathay, Business Class. What a difference flying with a bed makes in such long flights! Plus the lounges….yum food and free booze!
After a few days there we splurged using Singapore Airlines first class suites to Singapore (transferred Chase Sapphire points to Singapore Airlines and booked directly online – plenty availability). Be warned, you won’t feel like ever flying again on anything else after experiencing such luxury. Best flight EVER.
Sadly, we were back to our regular status on the next leg of our trip, where we took a budget airline to Malaysia for like $80 dollars for both of us round-trip from/to Singapore lol. Hey it was under 2 hours for that flight, totally acceptable!!
Before I start, just a note for our way of travel – we LOVE to walk. As in, we don’t mind putting up to 15 miles a day if needed, so adjust for your preferences and level of comfort.
We calculated that we walked/hiked 100 miles + on this trip!
Part 1: Hong Kong
I had forgotten how anal I was when planning this trip. I planned for weeks in painful detail, including ‘do not miss’ places to eat. I even made walking paths links for ourselves lol (I will share some below) – at least I hope my random obsession helps someone out there, saving them hours of work.
Also, this resource was really helpful to plan and learn more (once I knew what we wanted I plotted it here and followed the app while in HK, which worked perfectly with my US based Tmobile plan). The site also includes info on how to get an Octopus card for transportation (which I highly recommend), etc.
We stayed at the Park Hotel in Kowloon. The stay was around $850 total for 6 nights, which was a really good price for Hong Kong and an excellent location. I recommend it highly unless you are going on points with a popular chain or renting your own place. You could also try using hotels.com (every 10ths stay you get 1 free with average spent rate), or rocketmiles.com to get miles for staying at different hotels).
Day 1 (arrival day): Got our bags, purchased our Octopus cards, then went straight to the Cathay Pacific Arrival arrival lounge (delicious food! here is a review (not mine) for an idea). Then we made our way to to our hotel via metro/bus combination (super easy to follow), checked in and got ready to do a little walk, following this little path. The walk took us through the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, Avenue of the Stars and Clock Tower, plus we added a little extra walking around Nathan Road too (not on my map link) before heading back to the hotel and passing out early due to jet lag.
Day 2: Walk up super early so had buffet breakfast at the hotel, walked around Kowloon and discovered the lovely Kowloon park. After that, we visited Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery (don’t miss this, incredible places the are literally next to each other!), Wong Tai Sin Temple, Walled City, Po Street Bird Garden, Flower Market, Goldfish market, Ladies Market. And here is what that looks like if you walked it all.
After lunch and a little rest, we visited The Peak and went up the touristy Peak Tram, crossing to Hong Kong island via the Ferry. The route looks like this. A happy dinner later and time to bed, but not before trying the amazing honeycombe waffle thingies (see list of food below, you will see) – YUM!
Day 3: Woke up early and the most respectable thing to do was to go get fresh pineapple buns across the street. Then we walked to Mong Kok for even more pineapple buns and found a little hipsterish looking coffee shop for my husband (I don’t do coffee). We took the metro to Lantau, boarded the crystal gondola to The Big (Tian Tan) Buddha where we walked around the Po Lin Monastery and other little hikes around. Here is the itinerary map I used for context on distance.
We then took the metro back to Hong Kong Island, walked around downtown for a bit and tried a famous eggtart from the list (not a fan), took a gazillion pictures of street art along the way (very cool by the way, I was not expecting so much of it!) and made our way to the Avenue of Stars sculpture garden. Dinner and bed.
Day 4: What is for breakfast? You guessed it, pineapple buns! We took the metro to explore the area around Hong Kong University (including exploring the University itself) and made our way back to central discovering fun little back streets and things along the way like the Zoo Park and Botanical Gardens, Hong Kong Park, and Victoria Park.
For lunch we made a line – like so many others, to eat at the super famous Tim Ho Wan (the cheapest Michelin star restaurants in the world at the time, which is allegedly opening in NYC) and did something that appeared to be inappropriate judged by the looks we got: we ordered 5x more food than what a normal couple should ever eat. Whatever, I really wanted to try those chicken feet!
Finally we took the metro back to Tsim Sha Shui, got some rest, showers, dinner at Mak’s noodles (on the list I attached), then walked this route to Temple Street Night market (I am pretty sure I found more of those eggshaped thingies) and it was sleepy time.
Day 5: Good morning. Pineapple Buns. Metro to Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery area. Then we took the metro back to Hong Kong Island to eat Kau Kee beef. Walked around Lang Kwai Fong and then took the metro to the bus towards Dragon’s Back – considered one of the world’s best urban hikes.
At night we ventured into the somewhat scary but must do experience of eating visiting the Chungking Mansions.We ate at the Delhi Club which was meh at best but glad we experienced this place.
Day 6: After a much deserved couple of pineapple buns we walked to Mong Kok then took a bus to Sai Kung AND then a taxi to the Maclehose hiking trail. This is some spectacular hiking here where you go about 40 mins away from a ridiculously crowded city to a heaven for hiking that includes almost deserted beaches! If you love hiking do not miss this!
Back to the city (bus then metro), some more Tim Ho Wan to go, shower and…more food – one last go at Mak’s noodles and egg thingies.
Day 7: Double dose of pineapple buns, taxi to the airport and on to the royal treatment for our Singapore Airlines first class suite lounge. I had some of the best food of the entire trip here, and that is really saying something, because the next two legs of our trips were what I would consider food heaven. Arriving at Singapore (by the way – best airport I have ever been to) after the best flight of my life ever, our friend picked us up (luckily he loves us enough to let us stay in his house), we stopped to eat at a delicious Nasi Lemak Place and go to sleep early to get ready for our flight early next morning to Penang, which is Part II of this journey.
I used this and this list for our food guide since I kept finding the same places anyways no matter where else I would search. Food in Hong Kong was not my favorite, but the ones we tried here (most) were really good. And we found a little shop a block away from our hotel that sold pineapple buns super early. They don’t look like much, but AMAZING.
General food tips: here it is all about efficiency, you are expected to sit down, eat as fast as possible, share tables and leave. Oh and I found very few places had napkins (obviously the more touristy or fancier the place, the less these things may apply, but be warned!).
And there you have it, part I of the journey completed. Excellent introduction to Asia for a Westerner if that overwhelms you.